Liberty Bowl: Three Keys

You saw the preview and prediction. Now here are three keys for Cincinnati (9-3) headed into the AutoZone Liberty Bowl against Vanderbilt on Saturday afternoon:

1. Slow down Zac Stacy. Cincinnati has been solid against the run in every game except one this season. I know Bearcats fans are still wondering how Rutgers rushed for over 200 yards on the ground back in November. The larger point is this -- Cincinnati has held opponents under 100 yards in six games this season. Twice the Bearcats held opponents to negative yards rushing. They are 5-1 in those games. Meanwhile, if you limit Stacy you have a greater chance for success. In five of Vanderbilt's six losses this season, Stacy was held under 100 yards.

2. Protect Zach Collaros. Cincinnati has been much improved in this department, but it has got to be a huge point of emphasis going into this game because Collaros is coming off a broken ankle. The last thing the Bearcats want is for Collaros to be sacked, or forced to scramble for his life on every down. Coach Butch Jones says Collaros is 100 percent healthy, but this is his first game action in eight weeks and presumably the most he will be doing on his ankle. Collaros is a good runner and scrambler, so Cincinnati is not going to want to take that ability away from him. But it's best to allow him to make plays with his feet on his own, and not as a result of a relentless pass rush.

3. Make some big plays. Cincinnati does have the capability of getting big plays from all areas of its team. This season, the Bearcats had 97 plays go for 20 yards or more -- including 19 from Big East Offensive Player of the Year Isaiah Pead. Included in there is a 65-yard touchdown run against Tennessee earlier in the season. That is tied for the team's longest rushing play of the year. If Cincinnati can hit on some big plays for touchdowns early this could be a huge advantage.